My relationship to rurality has always been shaped by a certain ambivalence: the farmhouse of my grandparents, the endless fields of the American West from my adventure books, places that were undeniably a part of my imagination – but always seemed somewhat foreign to me. My father’s childhood stories about life on the countryside always had something fairy tale-like for me, although I was separated from them by only 50 years and a few hundred kilometers.
The origin of human settlement is generally considered to be the cultivation of crops, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that a discussion of agriculture is always a discussion of the origins of human civilization. Perhaps this is also the explanation for my alienation with my own roots? Where do we come from? Where do I come from? Questions that we always have to ask ourselves and yet…
A completely different approach to the theme of the farm is developed by the adventure books I mentioned at the beginning – cowboys, kitsch and cornfields seem to be the primacy here. So the farm nowadays maybe only a sad copy of its former existence? Doomed to an existence as a backdrop for characters we would like to be? A relict of the past, which in today’s society, if at all, then only appears in the form of a synthesized symbol?
It’s not quite that simple after all. Because even the banalization of the farm as a motif shows one thing: the land as a place of primary production, the farm as a point of reference for our memories, no matter how ironic, their characters may be – all of them do not let us go.
But far from this symbolism, there is a farm that is neither a mystical place of origin nor a nostalgic kitsch scenery. Nowadays, farming means satellite-assisted harvesting robots, hard-calculating large-scale farms, and genetically optimized varieties of grain – not a trace of nostalgia or the like. Where food production must be subordinated to the primacy of profit, there is no longer room for the kind of observation my grandfather used to write down in his notebook during the vegetable harvest.
What does it mean for a society when the grain fields that were already a place of retreat and reflection for Achilles or Cincinnatus, are increasingly being traversed only by harvesting robots. When they become more and more distant from the farm?
Automation, increased efficiency, all of that is necessary to feed the ever-growing human race. So the farm faces society in a trinity: as a place of its own origins, which poses profound, even sometimes as a nostalgic point of reference that makes use – sometimes more, sometimes less seriously – of a symbol whose referent hardly exists anymore; as an actually existing place of production, a wheel in the capitalist reproduction of labor power.
Finally, what remains, is a farm, which rather resembles a shell. Filled with ghosts searching the last debris for something usable. Enveloped by relics that seem to be documentations of an experience that never existed.